In the early 1960s, while the Beatles and Cliff Richard were topping the charts in Britain, and Elvis was threatening to become America’s best-known export, Ferrari were crafting some of the most beautiful cars ever to turn a wheel.
The Ferrari 250 came in many guises and became the generic term for a whole range of Ferrari Grand Touring cars. With 15 different models spanning the years 1953 to 1963, the 250 Series encompassed a decade of elegant sports cars designed for both road and track.
In a history spanning just over half a century, Ferrari has produced cars with a wide range of styling from beautiful and elegant to purposeful and even brutal. The most famous of the 250 series cars are undoubtedly the 250GT SWB and the incredible 250GTO, both racing legends and purposeful looking with it. But amongst the road cars the 250GT Lusso has the most beautiful lines of all, and is arguably the most elegant road going Ferrari of all time.
This is of course a subjective judgement, a gut reaction to a design that looks right from every angle. But in design, what looks right normally is, and when you stand back and consider the Lusso’s styling objectively, it becomes apparent that its basic proportions obey all the fundamental rules of good design.
At the core of this ‘rightness’ in proportion is the long front, which conveys a sense of power and speed, while the rear tapers to a Kamm tail, the aerodynamically most efficient way to finish a car. In between, the proportion of roof to body and its shape and position in relation to the wheelbase is also visual perfection.
The slim roof pillars and glasshouse create a feeling of light and space both inside and out, resulting in a car that appears powerful yet graceful. This is exactly the sort of look that made the Supermarine Spitfire, another lithe and curvaceous design, the aviation classic that it is.
If the Lusso looks like a simple shape at first glance, the way its body panels are formed in 3D belies that simplicity. The wings and door panels feature complex compound curves, a panel beaters nightmare, and in plan view, the Lusso tapers gently towards each extremity. If it were a living, breathing thing, it would surely be a dolphin!
Overlaid on this masterful shape is some quite exquisite detailing of the kind you will never find on a mass produced car. From the neat three-piece chromed front bumpers and the handcrafted air intake grille on the bonnet scoop to the chromed covers for the jacking points that celebrate rather than attempt to hide such a utilitarian function, the Lusso is a feast for the appreciative eye.
And then you open the bonnet. Nestled snugly in the middle of the engine bay is the fabulous Columbo-designed alloy-block, twin-cam, triple Weber-carburettor, 60-degree V12 with its black crackle painted cam covers. Known as the Type 168, this is essentially the same motor as installed in the road going 250GT SWB. Producing 240 bhp at 7,500rpm, it gave the Lusso an 8.0 sec 0-60mph time and a 150mph top speed.
The interior is simple and functional in the typical Italian style of the era. But if there is one criticism of the car then it is the disposition of the instruments with the speedometer and rev counter offset to the centreline of the dashboard. It is a major distraction to look away from the road when you are driving quickly, and ironically, this triumph of style over practicality was repeated by BMW with their Z8 roadster in 2000.
That apart, the detailing in the cabin is quite delightful. Every individual item from the elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel to the chromed hinges of the sun visors has been thoughtfully designed and crafted.
For people used to modern cars with their power assisted controls, a drive in a car from this period can come as either a rude shock or a breath of fresh air depending on your perspective.
The 250 Lusso falls into the latter category and genuinely surprises you at how ‘modern’ it feels, even on pockmarked English country roads. This is particularly so with respect to the ride, which is taut in a sporting GT way, yet very comfortable thanks to well chosen spring and damper rates and relatively long wheel travel.
I have driven a number of Ferrari 250 cars including the redoubtable 250GT SWB, which is possessed of light and incredibly communicative steering, and a really delightful four-speed gearbox. This car just begs to be drifted through the bends on a racetrack.
However, although these two Ferraris share many mechanical parts, they are actually quite different to drive. The Lusso has a fine tiller too, but one that feels a bit heavier and about 20 percent more insulated from the road.
The 250GT SWB I drove was Clive Beecham’s RHD car that Sir Stirling Moss used to win the 1962 Tourist Trophy, and it had a really slick gearbox. Although it uses the same gearbox, the ratios of this LHD Lusso’s gearbox do not seem willing to slot in quite so easily.
Then in a flash I realised what was happening. The race-bred 250GT SWB comes with a perfectly sized alloy ball gearknob, whereas the road-going Lusso’s equally long lever is capped by a tall, thin black plastic knob.
A round knob allows perfect operation from any angle, which is an important trait in the cut and thrust of motorsport. The plastic designer knob on the other hand, despite its thoughtful moulded finger-shaped indents, forces your hand and wrist muscles to adopt a comparatively tense position, making it harder to negotiate the spring-loaded gate as instinctively. When will stylists ever learn about simple ergonomics? Co-incidentally, some photos of Lusso interiors show cars with the alloy knob from the 250GT SWB, and it is likely that individual owners changed the knob.
When I had become familiar enough with the car to begin pushing it along briskly, it rose to the occasion, showing off a lovely poise and fluidity through fast sweeping turns.
The other pleasant surprise was the strong and responsive servo-assisted disc brakes, which felt well up to the car’s performance, even by today’s standards. In that respect, the Lusso is a very well balanced car compared to the heavier and more powerful Daytona I once owned, which had blinding straight-line performance without quite the brakes to match.
The only area where the Lusso requires a deeper well of situational awareness than is possessed by today’s average driver is in the area of low speed tractability.
Unlike the 4.4 litre four-cam Daytona, which has stump-pulling low speed torque and will happy pull third gear around town, the Lusso’s 3.0 litre V12 simply runs out of answers below 1,500rpm in a high gear and fluffs badly. Thus, when negotiating slow turns or T-junctions, use of second and sometimes even first gear is mandatory.
Once on cam however, the free-revving V12 is simply magnificent, the sound of its triple carbs overlaying the distinctive thrash of the timing chains and the bark of the twin exhausts. Life near the top end of the rev counter is what this engine was designed for!
It is always hard to get a true picture of what a classic was like when new since there are so many ropey cars around. The Lusso is no exception, and a car that did not benefit from the right expertise when rebuilt cannot give you a true picture of what this car is really about.
This particular car, Chassis No. 4411GT, was properly restored in 2003 at the behest of John Mayston-Taylor, knowledgeable car enthusiast, successful race driver and owner of Lynx Motors International. Through meticulous attention to detail, it probably drives as well, if not better, than any factory fresh Lusso ever did.
Despite the bumpy country roads that made up the bulk of our test drive, the car did not exhibit a single squeak or rattle, feeling as tight as the proverbial drum. In fact, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that we were driving a 40-year-old car!
4411GT is an early Lusso, 28th of the 350 built between 1962 and 1964, of which just 23 were RHD. The first and last production Lussos were 4103GT and 5955GT respectively. When you consider that the Pininfarina prototype was Chassis No. 3849GT and the Scaglietti prototype bore the Chassis No. 4053, it is apparent that the production numbers did not run sequentially!
Classic Ferraris often had interesting owners. The Superfast can count Peter Sellers and The Aga Khan amongst its owners, and some lucky Lusso owners might discover that James Coburn, Steve McQueen or some other famous personality were past custodians of their cars.
4411GT was first registered on 17th May 1963, having been originally commissioned for the French film actress Mylene Demongeot, whose beauty was on a par with Brigitte Bardot. In fact, she acted alongside BB in the film ‘Futures Vedettes’ and co-starred in other significant period films alongside Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and even Roger Moore, whose career had not taken off at that point.
For whatever reason, Demongeot did not take delivery of the Lusso and its first owner was Clemente Setbon, who used it regularly both in Paris and to commute to his second home in Menton, near Monaco where he is now retired. In fact, he did this for around 20 years before putting the Lusso into storage in his underground garage in Paris.
Another decade passed before Setbon entered the frame of mind to sell his car. Advertised for sale in 1996, 4411GT was purchased by Paul Baber, the London based classic Ferrari enthusiast and dealer, who kept it for nearly six years. Baber sold it in May 2002, but the Lusso only left his care for six months, and becoming his property again in October.
John Mayston-Taylor became the fourth owner of 4411GT in December of that year. By then, the car had done the equivalent of 35,000 miles and was rather tired, so the highly skilled technicians at Lynx began a painstaking rebuild of all the components that required attention.
With fresh Rosso Rubino (Code 106 R7) paintwork and Tan interior, the Lusso looks magnificent, but what is important to note is the sympathetic restoration retains the original hand-built asymmetrical character of the car.
Many classic Ferraris have been over-restored and look too perfect. John was ever conscious of this, so while the car was fresh and pristine after its restoration, it still retained the character and maturity that comes with a life well lived.
This obvious patina no doubt influenced the judges in the significant concours events the Lusso was entered in during the course of 2003. In May, 4411GT won the Associate Class in the UK Aston Martin Owners’ Club Spring Concours and drew many admiring glances despite not being an Aston Martin!
Two months later, the Lusso won her class, and came second overall in the Ferrari Owners’ Club UK National Concours, losing by just two points out of a possible 400 to a Dino that had been painstakingly prepared as a concours winner. Placed in the Newcomers Class, the Lusso was also the oldest car in the whole event!
The Louis Vuitton Concours held at Saint Cloud, Paris in early September is an invitation-only event for entrants, and 4411GT was on this prestigious list. As John had a race entry at the Goodwood Revival in an original GT40 that same weekend, it fell to his wife, Susan to attend the event with the Lusso. The car created quite a stir and won the Prix de l’Elegance. As perfect as the Lusso was in isolation, it’s original French connection and Susan’s in-depth knowledge of its history no doubt helped to clinch this prestigious award.
Many classic Ferraris end up seldom being driven, which is a shame as they are so very tactile compared to modern cars. But John believes in exercising his charges, and following its success in Paris, 4411GT participated in the 2003 Italia Classica event in the Puglia region of Italy in late September. There it joined many other significant Ferraris, and ran faultlessly on this five-day invitation-only private road driving event organised by Luca Grandori and sponsored by TAG Heuer.
When John bought the Lusso, he was lucky enough to find the period registration number 4411 RU on the internet. ‘RU’ was a Bournemouth issue, and a common registration numbers on the 250 series cars owned by Colonel Ronnie Hoare, the UK Ferrari importer at the time. In combination with the Lusso’s chassis number, this made for a wholly appropriate licence plate, and went down well with the cognoscenti.
The latest chapter of 4411GT’s illustrious history began in the spring of 2004 when an existing Lynx customer in Connecticut, who wanted to add the Lusso to his private collection, approached John. A deal was struck, and with 59,000 kms on the clock, 4411GT began the long journey to America, once again proudly wearing her original Parisian licence plate, 5801 NR 75.